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What are the challenges for the work of tomorrow? How do management and their employees want to collaborate innovatively in the future and what needs to be done today to achieve this?

These are the questions that the New Quality of Work Initiative (INQA), launched by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), is continuously addressing. Since 2002, INQA has tried to support and advise small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular in creating attractive working conditions. In order to improve these offers for everyday working life, INQA, together with CrowdInsights, organised a participation process with managing directors and employees last summer. The aim of the project was to increase the knowledge of managers and employees, to gain new insights and to develop a convincing answer to the question of attractive working conditions.

Idea & implementation

The core objective of the participation process was to identify fields of action in which INQA can expand or improve its services. For this purpose, the process included a total of four central questions:

  • How attractive is your company as an employer?
  • What does your company need to do to keep its managers and employees innovative?
  • What does the future of your company look like in 2025?
  • What offers would be helpful for you as an SME?

As a basis for answering these questions, INQA and CrowdInsights organised a total of three consecutive online workshops in northern, western and southern Germany, all of which followed the same pattern.

Each session kicked off with a keynote speech by HR expert Rudolf Kast (Die Personalmanufaktur, Freiburg). Afterwards, the moderators formed small groups, in each of whom the following three blocks of questions served as a basis for discussion:

  • How attractive is your company as an employer on a scale of 1 (very good) to 6 (insufficient)? And why?
  • What do your competitors do better? Where are there best practices with regard to working conditions?
  • What headline would you like to read about your company in the regional daily newspaper in 2025? What do you need to do to achieve this message? What are the key challenges to overcome and what support do you need to improve the quality of work in your company?

The questions are deliberately different from the central questions posed at the beginning. They are intended to serve as mental guidance, to lay a kind of “thought track” and to ask implicitly rather than explicitly about the things that were actually raised. For example, the first question should lead the participants to evaluate the attractiveness of their own company before justifying this evaluation in the next step. The evaluation of the company is only an intermediate step in order to get to the actual findings, which lie primarily in the justification of the evaluation.

The second question is similar in that it attempts to make the question of the innovative capacity of managers and employees tangible by asking concrete questions (What? Where? How?).

Finally, the third question tries to gain useful insights again through intermediate steps. This time, however, it is done backwards as a so-called backcast. This means that participants first think about how they would like the situation (in this case the situation of their own company) to be in ten, twenty or thirty years and only in the next step consider what steps would be necessary to achieve this.

For each of the questions, the participants had a total of 30 minutes within their small groups. Group findings were collected in the form of a core statement mapping and then presented in the digital plenary. At the end, a fourth question was discussed in the plenary as a cross-cutting issue:

What do you think would be helpful for SMEs? What would you like to see?

Core statement mappings enable orientation in which direction the conversation is currently moving without having to resort to moderation that intervenes strongly in the conversation. With this approach, minute-takers record the most important points live in the form of stylised (i.e. recreated and to the point) quotations, arrange them in groups and provide them with subheadings and/or pictograms. Similar to a pin board clustering in face-to-face workshops.

In this way, all workshops were initially documented individually so that all participants could follow their personal contributions. In this way, it was possible to first address the individual participants personally and thus to satisfy their expectations of the workshop to a certain extent. With this step it is possible for the organisers to ensure a certain satisfaction among the participants, as they can thus be convinced that their own contributions will be recorded and at least processed in some way.

In the INQA case, this step can be particularly important because there are certainly participants who are not primarily interested in the outcome of the participation process, but in the public expression of their own opinions and experiences.

Presentation of results

In a next step, the stylised quotes from all workshops were uploaded to the CrowdInsights platform. The CrowdInsights platform is developed as an infrastructure for participation and co-creation projects. At its core, participants can respond in writing to openly posed questions in free-text answers. Afterwards, these free-text answers can be digitally consolidated on the platform using qualitative text analysis techniques, clustered and merged into insights. However, with good workshop documentation, as in the case of INQA, the platform can also be used to gain insights from direct conversations (both online and analogue). Such a transfer of workshop content to a digital platform makes it possible for participants and the client (here INQA and BMAS) to view the bundled results of the workshops in a central location at any time.

In the case of the INQA workshops, instead of contributions from individual participants, the transcripts of workshop small groups generated via core statement mapping were clustered and combined into findings. A separate area was available on the platform for each of the three questions.

Within the project areas, the individual core statements or quotations can be viewed behind the findings. The statements can even be assigned to the individual workshops.


The participation process of the New Quality of Work Initiative provides an excellent example of how innovative digital workshop design can lead to sustainable results even in times of a pandemic. By skilfully “taking the participants by the hand” and implicit questions, valuable insights were gained in the process. The usual pin and metaplan wall recording in the analogue field could be adequately replaced with the help of a digital core statement mapping. And by presenting the results in a variety of ways, it was possible to reach all addressees in the best possible way. In short, the process realised by INQA and CrowdInsights can be used as a template for future digital participation processes.